A vague disclaimer's nobody's friend! - Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When I started sporking slashfic nearly seven years ago, there were very few PPCers doing it. In fact the only ones I knew of at the time were the author/s of Dee and Milask, who had dropped off the radar by the time I started. So, I winged it.
It is only by luck and chance that I didn't make a horrific fool of myself, and that I have had good and understanding readers and cowriters. I am writing this article now looking back at all the silly things I did and hoping to help others avoid the same pitfalls. I'm aware that Bad Slash isn't the most popular sporking beat, for various reasons, and while I don't wish to flood the market, as it were, I'd like to make sure that the reason people aren't taking their first steps in this sandbox isn't because it's too obscure and intimidating.
That said, Bad Slash is clearly not for everyone, and it has several very specific problems and peculiarities that mark it as a different beast indeed to sporking Mary Sue fics.
Before I begin, though, I have one very important point to make. This most pre-eminent and all-trumping point is, 'It's the Department of Bad Slash for a reason.'
If you don't like slash, I'm sorry, but this is not the department for you. My advice, although of course you don't have to take it, would be to not even go for Floaters. Be a freelance Assassin or something. But if you're going to be constantly distracted in a mission by the simple fact that you don't agree with who's sleeping with who, then you probably won't get the best and the most fun out of your sporking. And it should be fun. Don't you agree?
Etiquette of sporking slash/How to find a targetEdit
This may seem an odd thing to say. Etiquette? Surely we just find something that offends our love of canon and our sensibilities and let rip?
Put it this way. Mary Sues are, in general, fairly easily recognised as Mary Sues by almost everyone except the writer. You can find endless Litmus Tests and lists of characteristics and long, vitriolic rants on the subject of the Mary Sue simply using Google and five minutes of your time. And Sues are, by almost universal definition, bad.
Slash, however, and what makes it bad, is rather more of a heated subject. The usual place we run into trouble with this is on higher rated, PWP and kinkfic. Because of this, the Prime Directive of Sporking Bad Slash, for me at least, is 'Your Kink Is Not My Kink'. Our job is not to judge other people's taste in porn. People are allowed to like what they like, and people are entitled to their opinion. If they think that Character A urinating into Character B's mouth is a turn-on, that's entirely their business. And if they've managed to justify Character A and Character B wanting to engage in such an activity in decent-enough prose, then you should leave them to it. Yes, even if in your personal canon, Character A and Character B would rather die a thousand deaths than engage in what is charmingly referred to as "watersports". Unless it's specifically said in canon that Character A and Character B don't like watersports, then there is always the chance it can be justified with some clever writing and a twisty set of speculations on their thoughts.
Because of the above, I would generally suggest not picking targets from locked communities, kinkmemes, '[verb]memes' (some examples of these that I've seen are 'Kiss Meme' 'Hug Meme' 'Rimming Meme' and 'Wall-Slam!Fest'), fic-exchange or fic-challenge communities, or similar. Basically, if someone has been challenged to or asked to produce something specific, I consider it out of bounds. If it's locked, and therefore technically out of the public eye, then I consider it out of bounds. I would also advise caution when sporking anonymously-posted fics - you never know who they could have been produced by, and if you are active in the fandom you're sporking, you may find out you've just horrifically offended one of your friends or readers by sporking something they wrote.
This is not to say at all that sporking higher-rated slash is not allowed. It really, really is. Some terribly heinous crimes get perpetrated in high-rated slashfic. But the main crime should not be that it IS higher-rated slash, is my point.
Good places to go looking for targets are, of course, The Pit, the Uber-Pit, and any open Livejournal communities (it's probably not a good idea to spork from comms you post to though, or you may get caught).
What I tend to look for in a fic, first off, is something that makes me make this face: O_o. But also that's kind of intriguing at the same time. The kind of fic that makes you go 'oh Glod, that's ... but I can't stop reading ...' A trainwreck of a fic, if you will, something you'll keep going with just out of a sense of horrific curiosity about just how far it can go.
If a fic bores you, even if it's littered with awfulness, there's not a lot of point sporking it, because you'll be bored and your readers will be bored, and then you have to ask yourself what the point is.
Other things to look for are name-misspellings, because they produce minis, which can be entertaining, or absolutely ridiculous set-ups that you can make fun of, or typos and misspellings in general, preferably ones that can generate funny objects or situations. If you read a fic and start thinking about how hilarious it would be to see X happen, or the author's phrasing keeps causing you to reflexively riff on it, then bingo, you have a winner there.
Charges and chargingEdit
Related to what I've said above - if the fact that it's high-rated slash isn't the principle transgression, what is?
Bad writing, of course! Crimes against canon!
Bad writing is the easier one to spot, generally. And it doesn't just mean typos - consistently bad writing should be what you look for:
- Words that could easily have been picked up by a spell-check or beta-reader spelt wrong;
- Tense shifts;
- Mix-ups caused by all the protagonists having the same pronoun;
- Word-choices that are inappropriate for the character, setting, time-period etc;
- Punctuation gone wrong;
- Similes and metaphors that make you wince;
- Over-description or entirely bald prose.
The list of actual crimes against the English language that can be commited is far too vast for the scope of this article, and if you're at the point where you're considering writing a PPC mission then I hope you can at least spot the most obvious ones. There are basic chargelists on the Wiki and other PPC sites that are canon-specific. Most of these are tailored towards Assassins, but the majority of charges are equally applicable to any kind of fic.
Crimes against canon is a tad trickier. For a start, as aforementioned, just because you don't think a character would do something doesn't mean it can't be justified. Chances are that if you're thinking 'That would never happen!' it probably wouldn't, but stop for a minute and think about why not. Apart from anything else, doing so, and then working at least part of that explanation into your mission, will help readers unfamiliar with the canon in question to understand what's going on more easily.
(If it helps, think of it this way. Most characters, as written/played/depicted are by default generally considered heterosexual. That's just how society rolls these days. But undeclared sexuality does not mean definitely heterosexual. In fact, even confirmed heterosexual does not mean only heterosexual. Let us not forget the existence of bisexuality. Confirmed monogamous, however, is a different thing. Breaking up a long-standing canonical relationship is quite different to suggesting that perhaps the latest in a string of canonical one-night-stands might be a different sex than usual: i.e., it is easier to plausibly slash Captain James T. Kirk than it is to plausibly slash Aragorn.)
Slash writers know, acknowledge, and even enjoy the fact that what they're doing is almost certainly not what the Powers That Be intended. And largely, they don't care. And why should they? They've seen in a pair of characters a hint of something that, with enough writing skill and a healthy dose of imagination, can be turned into an interesting relationship between two characters. Or at least, the good ones have. The bad ones, admittedly, have largely just seen two characters they're attracted to and tried to metaphorically lock them in a room together with no clothes on. (Actually, sometimes they do that literally, too ... and most good slash authors are also not above accepting the fact that sometimes the mental images are just attractive and writing a bit of PWP ... this is one of those things where you should use your judgement!)
Crimes against characterisation that are most prevalent in slashfic of any rating are Token Homophobic Jerks and Unrealistically Tolerant Pillocks, by which I mean characters that are made to be, contrary to how canon suggests they might act, either unreasonably against the slashiness or unreasonably for it.
One further caveat is that we spork fic, not authors. We leave authors alone, except to acknowledge them as authors. We know from our own experience that writing can be really variable - someone can write something awesome AND something awful. So despite an author's past form, you should never assume that something they've written is badfic/goodfic. And your sporking is not the place to bash the author. You can ask rhetorical questions along the lines of 'what were they THINKING?' but it's not really good behaviour to start making unpleasant comments about the author themselves.
Additional note for if you're sporking something very graphic: You are allowed to cut out gratuitous smut, anything overly disturbing, or anything else you like. It's generally considered a good idea to quote something that you're charging for, but in the case of high-rated fic, you're allowed to paraphrase for the sake of your readers, yourself, and comedy.
See also the article on Exorcism.
Perhaps the part of a Bad Slash mission that's the most dramatically different from a Mary Sues mission is the ending - where instead of visiting righteous retribution upon the source of the crime, viz; the Sue, via pointy objects or ironic canonical occurences, the Agents merely beat the affected canon characters to a state of semiconsciousness and shout at them, this ritual somehow causing the Author's malign influence to leave the innocent characters and be dissipated.
This is the exorcism, the crucial point in any Bad Slash mission, and it is really nothing to be afraid of writing. The essentials are:
A source of canon - book, DVD, video, CD, mini-disc, 8-track, canonical possession, or in extreme cases in Torchwood fandom, the kiss of Captain Jack Harkness. This brings the possessed character back to reality, as it were;
A source of loud noise - bell, air-horn, cymbals, triangle, and/or your own voice. The bell is traditional, but traditions are there to subvert ^_^. The loud noise startles and jars the character and thus the Authorial influence inside them;
Candle - this, actually, isn't essential for anything but ambience, although it is generally held to help the efficacy of the exorcism. If you're in a hurry, don't worry. If you've got the time and want the pomp and circumstance, go for it. Other sources of light, depending on canon, are also acceptable.
First off, you have to immobilise your characters. This may be done by knocking them out with your canon source, tying them up, backing them into a corner, or simply waiting until a point in the narrative when they're immobilised (depending on your fic, this is not exactly an unlikely option, and quite a safe one too).
Then, begin producing noise. Clanging your bell, triangle, cymbals etc, shouting, that sort of thing. Good things to shout include:
- 'Get behind me [colourful term for the malignant possessing spirit]!'
- 'In the name of [POWERS THAT BE]!'
and to go around banishing and abdjuring things that you've charged for, and conjuring and binding things that have gone missing from the world during the Author's time in the driver's seat.
But the important thing is, as long as you're shouting and it's relevant, the exact form of words doesn't matter. Try and find a way that works for you. You'll notice, reading other exorcisms, that they're very seldom consistent.
But what if the character is SO out of character that they could be a Replacement Sue, instead of just possessed? How can you tell? And what do you do?
There are a few major indicators on whether a character is a replacement or just possessed. A name-change usually denotes a replacement. As does a complete moral transplant: for instance, Harry Potter driven by guilt and ANGST to wander around killing Death Eaters and capslocking about it is probably possessed; Harry Potter killing Death Eaters for fun and profit and not angsting OR capslocking about it is mostly likely a replacement. Dark! versions of heroes and good! or conflicted! versions of villains are not necessarily replacements - the key is to read how the author has justified it. If they've genuinely been extrapolating from canonical clues, hints and behaviours, then it's probably a case of possession. If they've completely changed the character's motivations, then you're most likely dealing with a replacement.
Patching things up afterwardsEdit
Obviously, you want to neuralyse your canon characters, so they don't remember the horror that has been visited upon them. However, depending on the rating and content of your fic, you may not want to do this immediately - they may need to get dressed again, for a start. And have their injuries attended to. And possibly be put in separate rooms or other habitats, if they wouldn't normally cohabitate.
Important points - once they start coming round from being knocked out/possessed, they may well be of a belligerent disposition. You may need to fight them off and/or run for your life at some point. Don't be ashamed to play up the comedy of this.
Don't forget to use your sunglasses or keep your eyes closed while neuralysing! There's no good in neuralysing yourself!
Don't forget to gather up all your tools before you leave!
How to disclaim/warn/post your sporked slashficEdit
Okay, so you've finished actually sporking your slashfic. You want to post it and plug it on the Board, naturally. But it's important that a) you don't horrify your readers and b) you don't get any of your readers in trouble. When you post, wherever you post, you should use a header. This would typically list the title of your mission (and the title of the original fic if that differs - you can either come up with a new name for the mission or name it after the fic, it's your call), your name, and most importantly, the rating of the sporking.
You must also warn. Warn for everything. Don't think that people would rather not be spoiled for the contents of your sporking. They'd rather not be faced with surprise!kink, surprise!violence, or, well, surprise!anything. Warning that your post is Not Safe For Work (NSFW, NSW etc) is always a good idea if you think that it could be detrimental to someone's career or educational prospects to have a superior/teacher reading your post over their shoulder. If you think that the post is seriously brain-breaking, then Not Safe For Brain (NSFB, NSB) is the warning you need.
Disclaimers are important too - for a start, you don't want anyone thinking you wrote the badfic. Or for the author or friends of the author of the badfic to run across your sporking and start ugly accusations of plagiarism.
A brief summary is also usually a good idea. Just a couple of sentences to tell your readers what to expect in the upcoming fic.
When you're posting to the Board, you should repeat all of these things in the Board post, before putting in the link. Sometimes people would just rather not have things in their browser history, even if they click 'Back' immediately.
As for posting - post wherever you like, preferably somewhere that isn't locked, so that anyone can get at your mission, but equally, hopefully somewhere the author of the fic you've sporked isn't likely to run across it, because it's not nice to be the target of a flamewar or even to make a fourteen year old cry secretly to herself in her bedroom because you made fun of her epic vision of naughty love between an Elf and a Hobbit.
Exactly what it says on the tin: my groundrules. I'm not in charge of the Department of Bad Slash, I've got no authority over how you choose to write your missions. But I've been sporking bad slash for many years now, and there are a few things I think are important.
- 1) - I Must Always Remember That Your Kink Is Not Necessarily My Kink But That This Does Not Make Your Kink Bad.
- 2) - It's all for laughs. If it's not funny, why am I doing it?
- 3) - Typos do not 'bad writing' make - likewise, technically perfect fic may still be badfic
- 4) - Beta-read, beta-read, beta-read. Only think how embarrassing it is to make mistakes while complaining about other people's mistakes.
- 5) - Try to avoid sporking something you wouldn't read if it were written well. This is a rule I've come up with only in the last few years, and for one reason - if you don't like the subject matter, why are you so upset it's been done wrong? In fact, if you aren't a habitual reader of similar things, how do you even know it has been done wrong? I tell myself this so as to avoid sporking things because of any internal prejudices or biases I might have.
Probably the most convenient way to write your mission is to use Google Documents, which allows you to give editing access to any and all beta-readers you have, and saves you having seventeen thousand different copies of the Word document containing your mission littering your inbox in various stages of edited!
I hope this article hasn't been forbidding or terrifying. I hope it hasn't put off anyone who genuinely wishes to spork bad slash. I hope that you've read it and felt a bit more prepared for taking on any bad slash missions that come your way, if you're a Floater or in some other way a freelance-Agent writer. And I also hope that if you aren't a slash fan, this article has helped you see a little more where we slashers are coming from.
Thanks for reading, and happy sporking!